Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer

Gary Ridgway is one of America's most prolific serial killers, alongside Ted Bundy and Samuel Little. If you want to learn more about him, read on.
Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer

Written by Vanessa Viqueira

Last update: 15 October, 2022

On November 5, 2003, an emotional trial against Gary Ridgway was held, in which the families of his victims were able to express what they felt and thought about the fearsome killer. Until then, Ridgway hadn’t shown an iota of remorse. He stood in inexpressive stony silence. In fact, it seemed that neither contempt, insults, suffering, nor the hatred expressed by the families of his victims could break him. Until that was, the father of one of them took the stand.

“Mr. Ridgway . . . there are people here that hate you. I’m not one of them. You’ve made it difficult to live up to what I believe, and that is what God says to do, and that’s to forgive. You are forgiven, sir” he concluded. These words brought Ridgway to tears.

The speaker was the father of Linda Jane Rule. She was murdered on September 26, 1983, by Gary Ridgway. That act of leniency caused Gary, a Christian man to cry. Furthermore, he immediately apologized for all the acts he’d committed.

Childhood and adolescence

Gary Leon Ridgway was born on February 18, 1949, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He grew up in an authoritarian environment. His father, who worked as a bus driver, had no qualms about showing his contempt for women prostitutes. His mother physically and psychologically abused the young Gary and his two brothers.

For several years, he suffered from urinary incontinence. He manifested his anger and frustration in his behavior toward animals, torturing them in different ways.

Things didn’t go well for him either at home or school. With an IQ of 82, he was a lousy student and also had a bad relationship with his classmates. In fact, he confessed to the investigators that, at the age of fourteen he tried to stab a six-year-old boy because he simply wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.

Eventually, Ridgway managed to graduate from high school and married his high school sweetheart. He then enlisted in the Navy and headed for Vietnam. However, his marriage was over in less than a year and was followed by two more.

Ridgway became obsessed with religious faith. He attended the local Pentecostal church and read the Bible continuously. He even read it at work, in his job as a sheet metal worker, painting vehicles in a truck factory. However, this didn’t prevent him from experiencing strong sexual impulses. Indeed, he often met prostitutes in order to satisfy his sexual appetite.

It’s clear that he had a complicated childhood. He also developed an unstable and strange personality and behavior, the kind that probably required supervision. As a matter of fact, his conduct suggested he may have been suffering from a childhood behavioral disorder. This behavior obviously brought him closer to the person he eventually became, the Green River Killer, a dangerous psychopath.

The Green River Killer

Ridgway’s first murders were committed between 1982 and 1983. It was during this time that police began to find the bodies of women in different places near the Green River, south of Seattle. Ridgway kidnapped women, mainly prostitutes, on Route 99 in King County (Washington). He later sexually assaulted them and ended their lives by strangling them. Later, he dumped the bodies and also practiced necrophilia with the corpses.

He was dubbed The Green River Killer by authorities, as he disposed of dead bodies by dumping them in the Green River. His modus operandi never changed and the profiles of his victims were always really similar. They were young women aged between 15 and 35 years old who practiced prostitution in the nearby surroundings.

Despite being arrested on several occasions as a suspect, no evidence could be provided to convict him of any of the murders.

The DNA test

In 2001, the sheriff, Dave Reichart, who’d been in charge of the case since 1982, decided to use a new technology: the DNA test. He was convinced that, by reexamining the evidence collected years ago, they’d find the serial killer. He wasn’t wrong.

Twenty years after the first crime, a fluid sample was decisive in proving that Gary Ridgway, an apparently calm and peaceful man was the serial killer who’d kept the American authorities on the run for two decades. He’d even been previously questioned and had his house searched.

Ridgway stunned investigators when he confessed that he couldn’t remember the number of women he’d murdered over the almost twenty-year period. There’s no doubt that he committed 49 murders in the period from 1982 to 2003, but it’s thought that he killed many more.

Trial and conviction

After his arrest, several members of his family and friends were questioned. They described him as easygoing but strange.

In 2003, in court, Gary Ridgway confessed to all the murders. He was sentenced to 48 consecutive life sentences without parole. He managed to avoid the death penalty by confessing to all the crimes he was accused of and collaborating in the search for the rest of the victims.

Ridgway confessed that “I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without being caught”. However, in reality, many of his victims weren’t even prostitutes. He’s currently serving his sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary.

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  • Gary Ridgway: The Green River Killer | Real Crime. (2020, 24 marzo). [Vídeo]. YouTube.

  • Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group National Content Desk. (2021, 26 enero). DNA cold case: Missing 14-year-old girl identified as victim of notorious Green River Killer. KIRO.